Transforming your world

Leading from the front

Transformers are arguably the best known and most recognizable power components we see around us. They can be found across the generation, transmission and distribution value chain – in power plants, substations and distribution networks – serving homes and industrial complexes, skyscrapers and shopping malls, ships and oil platforms, locomotives and railway lines, wind parks, solar fields and water treatment plants – now even 3000 meters deep on the seabed !

Perhaps a lesser known fact is the decisive role the transformer played in helping Tesla win the ‘war of currents’ with his AC power vision, more than a century ago, to serve the needs of that era. In fact, the first commercial transformer application dates back to the end of the nineteenth century when the first full alternating current (AC) power system in the world, built by William Stanley was demonstrated using step up and step down transformers at Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1886.

So what do they do? The main function of a transformer, as the name suggests, is to transform or adapt voltage levels, stepping it up for long-distance high-voltage transmission from the power plant, and stepping it down for distribution to consumers. They play a critical role across the power value chain, contributing to grid stability, power reliability and energy efficiency.

ABB (then Asea), a pioneer in the field, delivered one of the world’s first transformers in 1893, integrating it with another one of its innovations – the first commercial three-phase AC power transmission link to connect a hydro power plant with a large iron-ore mine in Sweden. And for the past 120 years ABB has continually extended the limits of transformer performance through technology and innovation to raise efficiency, reliability and environmental responsibility to new levels. Besides setting new records in transformer power ratings for both AC and DC transmission, the company has pioneered a number of innovative solutions.

Among the most recent is the development of a 1,100 kilovolt (kV) ultrahigh voltage direct current (UHVDC) converter transformer – the highest DC voltage level in the world. This will enable up to 10,000 megawatts (MW)  of power (equivalent capacity of 10 large power plants) to be transmitted efficiently over distances as long as 3000 kilometers (km) – the distance between Barcelona and Moscow as an example. It is significantly more than the current 800 kV technology, which is deployed in UHVDC links carrying around 7000 MW across 2000 km.

Other recent pioneering developments include a 1200 kV AC transformer, subsea transformers, ultra-low sound transformers for noise-sensitive environments and innovative amorphous  core and biodegradable oil based transformers. ABB has also introduced high efficiency distribution transformers, both liquid and dry-type, that can reduce energy losses between 40 and 70 percent. The power electronic traction transformer (PETT) is another breakthrough for traction applications that uses power electronics to reduce size and weight while increasing energy efficiency of the train and reducing noise levels.

Increased intelligence, electronics and communication ability will play a key role as operational and information technologies converge and grids get smarter. In addition to meeting traditional needs with greater effectiveness, transformers will need to address new challenges and opportunities like the integration of renewables and distributed power generation as well as accommodating new types of electrical loads such as data centers and electric vehicles.

With a presence in over 100 countries, more than 50 transformer factories, 30 service centers, an unparalleled global installed base and a vast array of power, distribution and special application transformers ABB,  as the world’s largest transformer manufacturer is well positioned to continue transforming your world and shaping the evolution of a stronger, smarter and greener grid.

Read more
ABB Review Special Report Transformers


Categories and Tags
About the author

Harmeet Bawa

I am Global Head of Communications for ABB's Power Grids division based at the Group headquarters in Switzerland. I've served in the UK, Sweden, India and South-Asia Pacific region across a range of functions spanning business and market development, strategy and corporate planning, communications, sustainability and investor relations.
Comment on this article